Interview: Ovalhouse Theatre’s artistic director Gbolahan Obisesan on Brixton’s ‘startling stories’

Ali Bruce
March 30 2020, 19.00

As artistic director presiding over Ovalhouse Theatre’s location and name change, Gbolahan Obisesan wants to put Brixton’s ‘proudly political’ history centre stage.

The move and the name change, to Brixton House, was in the pipeline before the announcement of Mr Obisesan’s appointment and the new building is still under construction.

But the 38 year old feels it is a good move.

He said: “The history of Brixton is proudly political, and its rich blend of cultures will inspire the new theatre to be a cradle for startling stories and extraordinary art.”

Mr Obisesan has worked as an actor, writer and director, winning awards for a number of his written and directed works. 

Brixton played a formative role in his life. 

When he was younger, his cousin used to take him out there and following that he would always gravitate towards Brixton for its music and social scene. 

Mr Obisesan is from south London and went to school not too far from Brixton.

Born in Nigeria, he moved to London aged 9, where he grew up between Bermondsey and Peckham.

“It has a warm and important place in my heart”, he reflected. 

In 2010, he was awarded the Jerwood Directors Award by the Young Vic for directing Barrie Keefe’s Sus.  

For his own play Mad About the Boy, Mr Obisesan won the Fringe First Award for the best new writing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. 

The Genesis Foundation, which looks to help talented young associate directors, recognised Mr Obisesan’s talent by making him a Genesis Fellow at the Young Vic in 2015. 

Cuttin’ It, written by Charlene James and directed by Mr Obisesan was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Affiliate Theatre. 

On top of all that success, a quick perusal of google images showed that he is way cooler than I would ever dream to be. 

His relaxed demeanour and friendly small-talk about Coronavirus instigated an ease for the rest of the interview. 

“I am subconsciously subscribing to the information to stay isolated, but there are still some rebellious souls out there. 

“More power to them I say”, he jestingly added.

When asked about his new appointment, he said: “I am ecstatic, man. 

“I can work with the best people and the next generation of theatre-makers, and put on the work that I am very excited about. 

“I want to build something that will be an iconic venue to Brixton and for the most part contribute as significant a legacy as Ovalhouse but also surpass it in its presence, its action, and importance for the local community.” 

Mr Obisesan hopes to present work that reflects the musicality and the broad demographic of Brixton to incorporate young artists from the area into the project of Brixton House.

“With the right sort of engagement, presence and the right sort of impact we can help young people find what they want to do in life,” he said.

“It is important to know why I am an artistic leader in an organisation like Brixton House.”

Mr Obisesan points to gentrification and a rise in the number of young people in Brixton for the promise that art has in the area.

He said that Ovalhouse Theatre was rooted in inclusivity and supporting under-heard and underrepresented voices. 

Mr Obisesan said: “Ovalhouse has been an unsung hero of supporting exciting theatre-makers.”

He wants Brixton House to continue this legacy under his guidance when the theatre opens its doors next spring. 

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